We recognise activities at our operated assets can impact the health of our people and the communities where we operate . We set mandatory requirements to manage and protect the health and wellbeing of our employees and contractors governed by the Our Requirements for Health standard and our mandatory minimum performance requirements for risk management, as well as local regulatory requirements, standards and procedures.
The Our Requirements for Health standard is based on internationally accepted leading practice with the requirements to identify occupational exposures with the potential to cause harm; assess the risk posed by those exposures; implement exposure controls based on the hierarchy of control; and where exposure cannot be immediately reduced to an acceptable level, provide personal protective equipment and undertake health surveillance. This approach is consistent with (or exceeds) regulation in our operating jurisdictions and can, for example, be found in regulations 6 to 13 of the UK Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
For guidance on the process to identify and assess occupational exposures, we specifically reference:
- American Industrial Hygiene Association’s A Strategy for Assessing and Managing Occupational Exposures
- International standard ISO TR7708:1995 Air quality – Particle size fraction definitions for health-related sampling
- UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Health and Safety Laboratory Methods for the Determination of Hazardous Substances (MDHS)14/4: General methods for sampling and gravimetric analysis of respirable, thoracic and inhalable aerosols
- US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Manual of Analytical Methods and the UK HSE, Methods for the Determination of Hazardous Substances
- International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Radiation Protection and Safety of Radiation Sources: International Basic Safety Standards – Interim Edition General Safety Requirements Part 3. IAEA Safety Standards Series No. GSR Part 3 (Interim), 2011
- European Union standards for whole-body and hand-arm vibration
Some of the potential health risks at our workplaces include exposure to musculoskeletal stressors, noise, coal mine dust, silica and diesel particulate matter (DPM), and mental health impacts. We manage our exposures to potentially harmful agents with internally specified occupational exposure limits (OELs) based on available scientific evidence and implement a program of preventative health measures and wellbeing support.
For our occupational exposures, our process to set OELs involves periodic monitoring and evaluation of scientific literature, benchmarking against peers, engagement with regulators and OEL-setting agencies and expert independent advice. Our approach to monitor and review our internal OELs is designed to ensure they continue to be aligned with or are stricter than applicable regulated health limits.
We conduct periodic medical surveillance to detect signs of potential occupational illness at an early stage and assist our people through the management of illness that is a result of exposure at our workplace and recovery. Our medical surveillance program is based on local regulatory requirements and evidenced-based industry best practice. The effectiveness of our exposure controls is regularly reviewed and subjected to periodic audit to verify the controls are implemented and operating as designed.
In line with Our Charter and our culture of care, we undertake activities to enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of our employees. This includes the provision of preventative health measures as appropriate for the location, such as influenza vaccinations, gym facilities, healthy food alternatives at our worker accommodation camps and a Mental Health Framework focused on awareness, support and proactive management of mental wellbeing. We support the proactive management of mental wellbeing through the provision and promotion of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a mental health toolkit called Thrive, education and awareness campaigns (including stigma reduction) and the BHP Resilience Program.
A range of targeted health programs, such as the Better Sleep Program and Heat Management Program, are made available at our operated assets where there are relevant workplace issues. Workers at remote sites are provided with medical emergency care and primary health care through onsite medical facilities with telehealth consultations available. These services are provided by qualified individuals and varies from paramedics, occupational health nurses and medical practitioners depending on the location. In most of our remote operations, these services are accessible during and after working hours.
We continue to monitor emerging health issues and trends through our membership of industry and professional associations, informal benchmarking, networking and participation in national and international conferences. We also monitor information from scientific journals and occupational health regulatory setting and advisory agencies. When a health issue has the potential to impact the health or wellbeing of our people, we apply the BHP Risk Framework to assess and manage the risk.
Fatigue management helps support the wellbeing of our people, including their mental and physical health. We have reviewed our fatigue management strategy to identify areas that require further focus. This year, we undertook a review of our fatigue control mechanism and developed minimum requirements to be included in the Our Requirements for Health standard. Priorities for FY2022 include embedding the control mechanisms to further improve fatigue management.
In FY2021, the reported incidence of occupational illness (an illness that occurs as a consequence of work-related activities or exposure) for employees was 308, which was 4.36 per million hours worked representing a minor increase compared to FY2020 which was 4.30 per million hours worked.
For our contractor workforce, the reported incidence of occupational illness was 180, which was 1.87 per million hours worked, an increase of 31 per cent compared with FY2020. We do not have full oversight of the incidence of contractor noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) cases in many parts of BHP due to regulatory regimes and limited access to data.
Excluded from this reporting are cases of COVID-19 among our employees and contractors that may potentially have arisen from workplace transmission. This is due to the inherent difficulty in concluding with reasonable certainty, that a person was infected as a consequence of work-related activities or exposure in a setting of high levels of community transmission, evolving understanding of the epidemiological criteria for infection and emerging COVID-19 variants with evidence of increased transmissibility. For internal risk management purposes, we have sought to continually identify and address risks of workplace transmission. Review of this information, along with a suite of leading indicators, has supported the continual evaluation of the effectiveness of our COVID-19 controls and informed improvement opportunities.
Similar to previous years, musculoskeletal illness is the predominant illness category reported. We are currently piloting A Participative Hazard Identification and Risk Management (APHIRM) approach in several of our Minerals Australia operations to reduce incidence of musculoskeletal illness. The APHIRM approach is an evidence-based system for workplace musculoskeletal disease risk management developed by La Trobe University.
The main changes in the incidence of occupational illness in FY2021 compared to FY2020 were an increase in the rate of employee cases of NIHL reported by our operated assets in South America. This was due to an increase in testing for noise-induced hearing loss this year following a suspension of testing activities as a result of COVID-19 impacts last year.
BHP has for more than a decade set occupational exposure limits (OELs) for our most material exposures based on the latest scientific evidence. In the case of diesel particulate matter (DPM), BHP’s OEL is lower compared to current regulatory requirements. Where exposures potentially exceed regulatory limits or our stricter limits (where BHP has stricter limits than local regulatory requirements), respiratory protective equipment is required to be worn.
In addition, for our three most material exposures to DPM, silica and coal mine dust, we have a five-year target to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in the number of workers potentially exposed(1) as compared to our baseline exposure profile (as at 30 June 2017(2)(3)) by 30 June 2022.
In FY2016, we committed to applying an OEL of 0.03 mg/m3 for DPM and in FY2017 we committed to applying OELs of 1.5 mg/m3 for respirable coal mine dust by 1 July 2020 and 0.05 mg/m3 for silica by 1 July 2021. Exposure data reported here is based on these limits and in all cases discounts the use of personal protective equipment.
In FY2021, the number of workers potentially exposed for our most material exposures reduced by 70 per cent compared to the adjusted FY2017 baseline, which is better than our FY2022 target. This includes a reduction of 29 per cent compared to FY2020 in the number of workers potentially exposed to silica in excess of our OEL. This reduction was largely due to the reduction in exposures by our Minerals Americas operated assets where there was a 35 per cent reduction compared to the previous year.
In addition, work to control exposure to DPM at Nickel West and Olympic Dam resulted in a 12 per cent reduction compared to FY2020 in the number of workers potentially exposed to DPM. We reported no potential exposures in excess of our OEL for respirable coal mine dust last year; however, we have reported a workgroup as being potentially exposed in excess of our OEL in FY2021 in one of our coal operated assets. We are committed to reducing this exposure to below OEL in the next reporting period.
Training on health hazards is provided in inductions at hire and periodically thereafter. Workers who use hearing and respiratory protective devices are provided with information on health exposures and training when they are fit tested for those devices. Where workers take part in occupational exposure assessment programs, they receive written feedback on their results and de-identified data is provided to line management.
We are progressing a project designed to enable real-time monitoring of silica and DPM and have deployed real-time monitors in our Minerals Australia and Minerals Americas operated assets . Fixed-position monitors can identify dusty conditions in real time, enabling controls such as increased ventilation or water sprays to be deployed. Data from personal monitors is available at the end of shifts rather than weeks later, when results of samples sent to the laboratory for analysis become available. This enables prompt action to be taken if potential exposure increases or exceeds our OEL.
(1) For exposures exceeding our FY2017 occupational exposure limits discounting the use of personal protective equipment, where required.
(2) The baseline exposure profile is derived through a combination of quantitative exposure measurements and qualitative assessments undertaken by specialist occupational hygienists consistent with best practice as defined by the American Industrial Hygiene Association.
(3)The baseline has been adjusted to exclude Discontinued operations (Onshore US assets).
Coal mine dust lung disease
In our Sustainability Report for FY2017, we reported on the re-identification of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) in our industry, the number of our current employees and former workers who had been diagnosed with CWP and the steps we had taken in response. We have updated this information in our reporting for each subsequent financial year.
In FY2021, four cases of coal mine dust lung disease (CMDLD)(4) were recorded at our BMA operated asset. Two of the four cases involved current workers and two were in relation to former workers.
We have implemented controls at all our operated assets with the goal of ensuring none of our workers are exposed to respirable coal mine dust in excess of our OEL. We continue to be vigilant with projects such as real-time dust monitoring to ensure exposures remain controlled.
To seek to strengthen the regulatory framework and health surveillance system, we will continue to provide input and share improvements in technical knowledge and controls with the Queensland Government and the coal mining industry more broadly through industry associations and working groups.
(4) CMDLD is the name given to the lung diseases related to exposure to coal mine dust and includes coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, silicosis, mixed dust pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
We continued to prioritise focus on the mental health of our people in FY2021 and are making good progress with the implementation of our Group-wide Mental Health Framework.
In FY2021, BHP joined a Global Business Collaboration (GBC) for Better Workplace Mental Health as a founding partner. Along with global organisations, such as Deloitte Global, HSBC, Unilever, Salesforce and Clifford Chance, the GBC aims to advocate for and accelerate positive change for mental health in the workplace worldwide. The ambitions of the GBC include:
- creating a platform for collaboration between leading businesses and experts to address poor mental health and stigma in the workplace
- raising awareness of the importance of workplace mental health
- facilitating the adoption of best practice through the creation of a road map for change and sharing knowledge and tools
We continue to embed programs and resources that support a healthy, thriving workforce. Our operated assets and functions actively promote our Resilience Program, which is accessible to all levels of the organisation. The program looks at the link between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, recognising early signs of pressure and stress, reframing our thinking, managing and reframing our thoughts in stressful times and ways to manage our wellbeing.
Our Resilience Program is supported by a program refresher, an eight-part training mini-series that is designed to be more accessible for our operational workforce. In response to COVID-19, we progressed with the virtual delivery of the Resilience Program. We developed podcasts and videos to supplement the peer-led program. COVID-19 examples were developed for discussion during delivery of the program.
Our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) continues to be promoted across BHP to provide access to counselling support as well as other support programs, such as Supervisor Support and Better Sleep. In response to COVID-19, Minerals Australia increased access to counselling through employee assistance programs and implemented additional support through our EAP provider, such as daily and group presentations.
The Thrive Mental Health app is available to all our employees to help them understand and manage mental health issues. It includes modules on mental health at home and at work, sleep and fatigue, mental health conditions and COVID-19 wellbeing resources.
In FY2021, we updated our mental health risk assessment to include psychosocial hazards, which are anything in the design or management of work that increases the risk of work-related stress . We will continue our efforts to increase adoption of the mental health risk assessment across our operated assets and functions and strengthen the management of psychosocial risk in the workplace. This will assist us to identify causal or contributory pathways and existing preventative or mitigating controls, after which we can identify and implement improvement opportunities, including in our longer-term mental health strategy, to better manage the risks associated with mental health across our business.
We continue to assess the progress of our mental wellness journey by using our BHP Mental Health Maturity Curve Assessment for our operated assets, which includes pillars such as culture, capacity, prevention and recovery to assess year-on-year progress against those pillars and provide focus for future action.